The ultimate negative review (or if you think you’ve experienced bad press, you’ll want to read this for a more extreme example.)

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America at the Trump Hotel in Toronto -- if you want to go directly to the restaurant's website, you can click here or on the image.
America at the Trump Hotel in Toronto -- if you want to go directly to the restaurant's website, you can click here or on the image.
America at the Trump Hotel in Toronto — if you want to go directly to the restaurant’s website, you can click here or on the image.

Chris Nuttal-Smith of Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper has managed to do something I’ve never seen before — in a published restaurant review, he went below one star and gave zero stars (out of five) to a restaurant in Toronto’s Trump hotel — even though he said the food was great.

America at the Trump hotel: The food is amazing – but you shouldn’t eat here, ever — that’s the headline — and the review goes on to describe at least one very creepy client, and rather creepy service, even though he writes:

The lobster Rockefeller – Henry – was worth its price and then some. One of the garnishes on the excellent plate of milk-fed pork was a buttery Granny Smith apple purée that tasted like tarte tatin, but was formed intotrompe l’oeil apple slices, complete with the (fake) green peel and all. The $56 lamb rack was superb; the roasted scallop jambalaya a rare fail – oversalted.

reviewOk, but why the problems?  Well, Nuttal-Smith described waiters who didn’t know what they were serving, female servers in scanty uniforms and that guy at the bar:

Greg, at the bar, is complaining about Toronto. You need to make at least a million a year to be comfortable in the city, he announces. Greg is in his upper 40s, by the look of it. He says he’s in finance. He’s brought the new girl from the office with him, a kind young thing named Julie who only recently moved to Toronto, who is maybe half his age. Julie’s drunk, but she isn’t stupid. Julie keeps rolling her eyes.

Greg has an ex and a kid, he says, but he “got off” paying just $200,000 in yearly support. And anyway, Greg adds, à propos of lord knows what, Greg makes $10-million annually. He’s the sort of patron you’d pay that much to never have to sit beside. At America, the tacky, new-money restaurant on the 31st floor of the Trump International Hotel and Tower Toronto, a guy like Greg no doubt feels right at home.
As I read this review, I thought: Wow, this is a newspaper that has no fear of libel lawyers or the loss of advertising revenue — like this is one seriously negative review. Readers comments indicated some were so amazed by how bad the place was that they would make a reservation to see it for themselves.
I don’t live in Toronto and doubt I would make my way to this place with my wife (and even better, son) in tow — but the interesting thing is some review sites such as OpenTable don’t really give the place such a bad name, and it seems the positive reviews elsewhere are independent and not influenced or managed by the restaurant.

Can we learn any lessons here for our marketing? First, and most impressively, there are signals that if you can be impressively bad at something, you can possibly obtain some positive marketing traction — at least for a while, and to a segment of the audience. As well, I suppose if your market primarily would be creepy guys like “Greg” you would welcome this sort of negative publicity.

Yet the other message is more impressively disturbing to business leaders and marketers. You can spend serious money on decor, systems, and even achieve excellence in what should be the core business objective (you, after all, eat at restaurant, so if the food is excellent, that should be a good thing) but if you fall down on service and then attract and support the wrong type of clients, you could end up pushing away sustainable, healthy business.

Of course, you could also have the misfortune of having a reviewer show up on one very bad night. It happens.

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